In response to a budget cut which reduced its operational budget by ten percent for Fiscal Year 2021, the Environmental Quality Protection Board (EQPB) said that it will “push forward in performing its duties as best it can”, while acknowledging that its ability to perform public services such as water-quality testing will be limited.
The EQPB is undergoing a budget cut of $50 thousand for the year, out of its initial budget of $503 thousand. Originally, Congress had proposed cutting the budget by $165 thousand, roughly 33 percent of its operating budget, but in response to letters written to the Senate from EQPB Chairman Elia Yobech and other interested parties protesting the cut, a budget compromise between the House of Delegates and the Senate partially restored the budget.
In a press release, the management and staff of EQPB acknowledged the efforts of the House and Senate for reducing the cut, and expressed appreciation to the government agencies, NGO’s and private citizens who voiced their concern over the cut.
At the same time, it said that all of EQPB’s operations will be affected.
“The Board and Management have agreed that the priority is to avoid laying off employees, especially during this COVID Emergency, when EQPB is a key partner in the decontamination efforts of rooms vacated by quarantined travelers,” the press release states.
It goes on to say that, while maintaining its existing employees, several vital positions will remain vacant until funding becomes available, and there will be no salary increments throughout the year.
“EQPB staff are committed and will tighten their belts, push forward in performing their duties as best they can with the limited budget imposed by the OEK,” the press release says.
Services which will be affected include water-quality testing for schools, local water bottling plants, and water testing based on private requests. The EQPB also says that its ability to assess new project development sites, monitor ongoing projects, and respond to public complaints will be limited due to lack of funding for fuel, and that delays in permitting are expected. But they encouraged the public to continue to call regarding environmental issues, and the EQPB will respond according to its capacity.
“The ultimate goal is to ensure the government and the people of Palau understand, value, and support EQPB’s role in ensuring a healthy populace and sustainable economic growth,” the release says, adding that EQPB will continue to provide environmental standards and regulatory authority for all economic activity and development projects which could impact the environment.
The $50 thousand which was cut from EQPB’s budget will be used to partially find the Mechesil Belau Conference.
House of Delegates Speaker Sabino Anastacio has previously defended the cut, saying that, in times of pandemic, Palau “must place people above the environment”.